When I started using the internet to search my family history, one of the questions I kept finding myself asking was, are there any good free genealogy websites? My family was young, we lived paycheck to paycheck, and something like a subscription to a website was not affordable to us.
By trying to keep my genealogy affordable, I learned that there are some really great free genealogy sites out there with loads of genealogy information, free printable charts, and even searchable records. However, I also learned that a lot of people have the idea that if something is cheap or free, it must not be any good. When you are talking about Genealogy, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Best free websites for genealogy research
Some of the best materials that I have found, like my great uncle’s death certificate, have come from free sites. Free doesn’t have to mean mediocre, it just means that someone was kind enough to share their knowledge with us and not charge us for it.
Since there are so many free sites that I love using, I had a hard time narrowing down which ones I just can’t live without. So, after much soul searching, here are my top 5 favorite free genealogy websites. Just remember that no matter what someone else’s favorite is, the best free websites for genealogy research are the websites that work for you.
Top 5 free genealogy websites
Family Search is probably one of the very first websites I started using for genealogy. Run by the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this website not only offers a place online for you to build a family tree, but endless free records to search.
It does require a sign up (It’s free!) but once you have an account, you can search records, other people’s family trees, and see memories that others have shared about your family members. Have some time on your hands? You can even volunteer to index some of their records.
Just remember that part of the information found on the Family Search website is accumulated by contribution, so you will want to prove any information you find before adding it to your family tree.
Have you ever needed information from a headstone that was in a cemetery too far away, or wanted to know where someone is buried? This one is for you!
Find A Grave is an online virtual cemetery with a searchable database that you can search by name, cemetery, or location. Contributors donate time by taking photos of cemeteries and headstones or manually writing down grave information upon visiting a cemetery, then transcribing them onto the Find A Grave website making memorial pages. These memorial pages are like an individuals’ grave site. They contain whatever information is on the headstone of the individual and if you are lucky, a photo of the headstone. Each memorial page can also be linked to their family member’s memorial pages.
Want to contribute? Check out Find A Grave and see if they have a listing of all of the cemeteries in your town. Know of one they missed? Write down or take photos of each of the graves and make note of the name and address or location of the cemetery. When you are done, sign up at Find A Grave and become a contributor.
At Find A Grave, we all work together to create a virtual cemetery where it’s easy to learn about the final resting place of millions of people from around the world.– Find A Grave
When you first go to the Us Gen Web Project’s website, you will be greeted with an interactive map of the United States broken down by state. Pick a state and click on it and you are taken to a brief history of the state and a map of it’s counties. Click on a county and you will find tidbits of information about that county’s history, first settlers, cemeteries, churches and so much more. There are even lists of surnames in the county with links to people who research those names so that you can contact them for information or share your information with them.
Keeping genealogy free is hard business and free websites depend greatly on contribution. Have information to contribute? There are counties up for adoption on the US Gen Web Project’s website or you can share your information with the curator for a county that is already adopted. The more genealogy information the site obtains, the more information there is to share.
If you have a lot of immigrants in your family tree like I do, the Ellis Island Foundation is a great place to start your search.
The foundation’s American Family Immigration History Center offers 65 million Port of New York arrival records for searching in person on Ellis Island or online.
Their free passenger search tool is as simple as inputting a name, choosing your preferences, and clicking the go to results button. If there are records that match the name you entered, you will be given a list that includes the name of the immigrant, their arrival year at the Port of New York, their last place of residence or birth place, and the name of the ship they traveled on. You can then choose to view the records, image of the ship, or ship’s manifest.
Keep in mind, you cannot print the manifests or records from the passenger search, but you can copy down the information you find there. If you sign up for a free account, you can also save copies to your profile for viewing later. Still want a hard copy of the manifests? The Ellis Island Foundation offers hard copies for a fee, but beware. They are a bit pricy.
I know what you are probably thinking. Google for genealogy? My answer to this is, you Google everything else, you’ve probably even Googled yourself, why not your ancestors?
How to use Google for genealogy research
The easiest way to start a google search for your ancestor is type their full name in the search bar. I like to do one search without quotations around the name, then another with quotations to narrow the search. Adding quotations tells Google that you want your search to contain whatever is in the quotation marks in that order.
After entering the name and clicking the search button, Google should spit out all of the top results for websites that contain that name. Now all you need to do is weed through them. You will still want to go to the different genealogy sites and search individually in the future, but this is a quick way to find what websites may contain information about your ancestors.
Getting search results you want to filter out? Try adding a minus (-) sign to your search. If you search John Doe and your results pop up with results for John Doe Jones, type John Doe -Jones in the search bar and click search. This should remove Jones from the results and help you narrow your search.
I hope these sites help you as much as they have helped me. But no matter what website you are using, or which one ends up being your favorite, just remember to have fun and enjoy the journey.
Sites that gather materials by contribution from its members leave a lot of room for error. If someone has the wrong information on “Aunt Sally” and they contribute it to a site as fact, that wrong information can run like wildfire. Make sure to prove the information before adding it to your family tree and save yourself a giant headache down the line.
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